Ambassador School / Gonzalez Goodale Architects

© Tim Street
© Tim Street Porter

Architects: Gonzalez Goodale Architects
Location: Los Angeles, CA,
Principal-in-charge: Armando Gonzalez, FAIA
Design principal: David Goodale, AIA, LEED AP
Project designer; Chung Chan
Principal/ Senior project manager: Harry Drake, AIA
Project Team: Anthony Tam, AIA, Sheila Mactal, Say-Vun Khov, Bill Ortega, Juan Bermudez
Landscape: ahbe
Lighting: Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design
Project year: 2009
Photographs: Tim Street, Inta Krukle, Magnus Stark

© Inta Krukle © Tim Street © Tim Street © Tim Street

Central Los Angeles Learning Center #1, at the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, consists of a K-5 school, now completed, a middle school, and a high school – all in the context of a single, virtually seamless campus. The K-5 building, for 800 students, is approximately 92,000 square feet and contains 44 classrooms in a two-story structure.

This master plan seeks to establish an academic pride-of-place among community members and students that begins at kindergarten and evolves continuously through high school graduation.

first level plan
first level plan

Aware of some of the security and influence concerns that come with this approach, the design of the campus developed well-defined zones whose edges are not walls, fences, and barbed wire, but subtle design features, such as terraced grade changes, and separate courtyards and passage systems.

Another program innovation is the concept of Small Learning Communities. In the K-5 school, this led to the definition of two distinct courtyards around which the school was organized. The employment of this de-centralizing device – while giving each sub-school identity – also proved to be highly flexible: As District policy evolved, the K-5 school came to be the home of two distinct pilot schools: The two-courtyard ‘sub-school’ organization was the optimum solution for their occupancy.

aerial view
aerial view

A principal planning challenge was to overcome the divorce of the site’s original grading from the city street system at both the south and west, and to re-integrate the site with the neighboring streets. Bringing the K-5 School down 30’ to make it both accessible to, and integrated with, 8th Street required a substantial investment in re-grading the site. Through design, the resultant grade differences introduced barrier-less and subtle separations between school grades.

A major design challenge was to objectively evaluate the existing Ambassador Hotel and its suitability as an educational facility. While the structurally deficient original building is now demolished, the original master plan served as the skeleton for the planning and relationships of the subsequent schools, including the K-5.


The facility’s circulation is continuously open-air, beginning with the entry portal and leading to a grand open-air stair covered by a sky-lit canopy. The scale of this stair makes it an instrument of both circulation and socializing. On circulating between classrooms, or between the eastern and western branches of the school, the two courtyards provide identity and way-finding for students in what could otherwise have been an over-scaled school for children of this age.

© Tim Street
© Tim Street Porter

In playful contrast to the zinc cladding at the entry is a material collage of painted plaster and perforated metal panels in a palette that combines white, charcoal gray, bright orange, and yellow-green. This vivid composition of the campus is intentional in conveying a spirit that is strong on academic discipline, and equally strong on a sense of ease, a sense of play.

The K-5 Library, patterned in colorful orange and white, is a high-volume space, the most dramatic, and public space in the school, celebrating reading and literacy in a most public way, with double height windows advertising the activities directly to the 8th Street sidewalk.

Cite: "Ambassador School / Gonzalez Goodale Architects" 27 Sep 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • VOG

    Interesting school design, one (if not the main) of the most complicated problems when designing a school is not how students are going to interact with each other, not even how space provides the possibility of this interaction, is how can design tackle student drop out?….is there any architecture project that attend this issue? This is a major concern on the educational system of any country, especially those with low quality educational level. Some may think about this, as not been a problem of the architect (drop-outs) I think this is a good challenge for any designer.

  • Cleven

    I’ll fell happy to study in this school

  • barbarow

    It looks like a prison for the kids. they re going to build robo-kids.

    • Claire

      that looks like a Bekerman remark: it´s stup*id!

  • oscar falcón lara

    I like how the windows are large and colors are everywhere. The use of materials here is very well done. Nice project. I think this place now needs a progressive non religious staff and you have yourself a very cool school.

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